The Pencil Box is a nonprofit free store where teachers from Tulsa County public schools can get supplies for their classroom. We spoke to Nancy Bolzle, founder and executive director of The Pencil Box about the beginning of the school year, their operations during COVID-19 and more.
What do you have planned for the start of school?
As schools struggle to reopen safely in light of COVID-19, we are working closely with our partnering teachers to determine how to best support them and provide the supplies their students need in distance learning when school starts and throughout the school year, whether in distance learning or the classroom.
How has COVID-19 affected The Pencil Box?
COVID-19 has caused us to alter not only our daily operations, but also our method of distributing school supplies to low wealth public school students and their teachers in Tulsa County. With the shelter in place order in March, we closed our facility, suspended all activities, including teacher shopping, volunteer and our annual gala, and worked remotely.
In May, our staff came back to our building, where we are strictly implementing the Center for Disease Control guidelines, scheduling donation drop-offs by appointment only and isolating donated items for at least a week before our staff processes them. Our facility resembles a retail setting where teachers can come and select supplies specific to the needs of their students and classrooms. Normally, partnering teachers can come any Tuesday or Wednesday after school and the fourth Saturday morning of the month, except school holidays.
When we reopen the teacher free store this school year, prepackaged supplies will be distributed curbside and we will schedule specific times for teacher shopping to limit the number of people in our building. Especially during this time of uncertainty, we are working thoughtfully and with flexibility to ensure students and teachers have the supplies they need for a positive school year.
Tell me about The Pack, why should someone join?
The Pack is our monthly community giving opportunity to empower students and equalize the classroom by providing school supplies, educational tools and student incentives to low wealth students that are essential for successful learning. It’s a great way to be part of something bigger and to make a real difference in the classroom and in the lives of tens of thousands of Tulsa-area public school students.
Especially at this time of uncertainty created by the COVID-19 pandemic, one thing remains sure: school supplies are essential to a child’s education. During a crisis like this, we can’t forget that it is the vulnerable who suffer the most.
The children our organization is committed to supporting are the same children who will likely lose the most from the pandemic. An increased demand for school supplies as a result of the economic fallout from this pandemic is inevitable. In addition, the Center for Disease Control recommends students not share supplies in the classroom, ending the practice of community supplies. Now more than ever, students in need need our help.
Anything else you want to add?
School supplies are more than backpacks filled with paper and pencils, they are about belonging and ownership. Access to school supplies is critical in causing students to feel engaged, that they belong to the school and identify with the learning experience.
When all students have equal access to supplies, the classroom is no longer a place of differences and alienation. Having school supplies empowers students to recognize that they have choices and opportunities to make decisions and pursue their dreams.
Access to school supplies is about preparing our children for tomorrow by providing the tools they need for successful learning today and giving hope for the future. Some people call it a pencil, we call it a power tool.